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Friends, in this session, I want to present information that deserves to be disseminated
regarding one of the many components that we have in our hands on the issue of climate
change or global warming.
In a single expression, this component is plastic. If we turn around us, wherever we are, we
can identify the presence of plastics materially surrounding us. If we are in a vehicle, almost
everything inside is plastic. If we are in the living room of our house, we can identify plastics. In
our workplace, in the doctor's clinic we visit, in the restaurants where we eat, in every place,
we have plastics.
We use plastic to cook our food and in the containers where we transport most of our food. In
our eyes, whether it is contact lenses or glasses. Occasionally, we have plastic objects inside
We are in contact with plastic from when we are born until we die.
The use of plastic materials has increased dramatically around the world over the past 50 years and now stands at approximately 100 million pounds. That
is, 45,359,237 kilograms.
Commercial plastics are known as resins here in North America and are made from polymers. These polymers have been combined with modifying or
Typically based on the element carbon, polymer molecules are made from simple oil-based raw materials. The starting materials for polymers are called
monomers and are small molecules. These small molecules go through a process called polymerization that combines them and forms very large
molecules or polymers.
The reason behind the term polymer is due to the end product consisting of several identical repeating molecule units. The polymer is sometimes
referred to as a "high-content polymer" or a "macromolecule" because the final size (or length) of these molecules, and therefore their molecular weight
or mass, is generally enormous.
Leo Baekeland, a Belgian-American chemist produced a key advance in plastics production in 1907. Mr. Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first synthetic
plastic with mass production.
Today we have the seven fundamental types of plastics:
Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE or PET)
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS)
With these products we manufacture as we see it around us, millions of products that we use, from our underwear to the integrated circuits of our
We find plastic in the most remote places in the world. And of course the plastics that we commonly see with which we have daily contact, and those
that are for specialized use in various areas of the industry are not biodegradable.
We understand the word biodegradable, referring to a product that is decomposed into natural elements, carbon dioxide and water vapor by organisms
such as bacteria and fungi. Biodegradable products break down into carbon dioxide, water vapor and organic material, which are not harmful to the
Well, plastic is not biodegradable. In other words, for example, the plastic bags that we use for an average of 12 minutes, imagine that it takes 500 (or
more) years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. Unfortunately, the bags do not break down completely, but instead photodegrade, becoming
microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.
The question is: Can we destroy plastic? The answer is a definite no.
Until now, there is no successful way to make high-end products from rPET. Although
it can be converted into other products, it is extremely difficult to break down PET
(polyethylene terephthalate) polymers into their base monomers.
Here, I offer you all some data of amazement on the one hand and of ecological
nightmare on the other hand.
Around the world, up to a trillion plastic bags are used each
year. This equates to 100 million barrels of oil! A 2015 study
estimated that more than 15 trillion pieces of plastic garbage
are in the ocean and growing each year.
There are an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste in our oceans. 269,000 tons
float, 4,000 million microfibers per km² live below the surface. 70% of our debris sinks
in the ocean ecosystem, 15% floats and 15% lands on our beaches. In terms of plastic,
8.3 million tons are dumped into the sea each year.
Here are 10 facts about single-use plastic bags. Single-use, I mean the plastic bags that
we use to carry items that we typically purchase at convenience stores and other
Here you go, listen to this about plastic bags
1- In the United States, 100 billion plastic bags are used per year, the manufacture of which requires 12 million barrels of oil.
2- You only need about 14 plastic bags for the equivalent of gasoline needed to drive a mile.
3- The average American family brings home almost 1,500 plastic bags a year.
4- According to Waste Management, only 1 percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling. That means the average family only recycles 15 bags a
year; the rest end up in landfills or as garbage.
5- Up to 80 percent of ocean plastic pollution enters the ocean from land.
6- At least 267 different species have been affected by plastic pollution in the ocean.
7- Every year 100,000 marine animals die from plastic bags in their ecological environment.
8- One in three leatherback turtles has been found with plastic in the stomach.
9- Single-use plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes.
10- It takes 500 (or more) years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill.
Unfortunately, the bags do not break down completely, but instead photodegrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute
the environment. Plastic, the bag for example, does not disappear, it is transformed into tiny particles of the same plastic.
Plastic bottles are another component of the most terrible degradation on the planet.
We know that plastic is one of the most polluting materials in the ocean. For the first time, a study led by the
prestigious journal Science, quantifies the plastic that ends up in the oceans; Please listen to this, by 2020 there
are more than 8 million tons of plastic bottles in the sea every year and it is estimated that in the year 2050 there
will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
We are playing one of the most mediocre roles, caring for the life-sustaining planet we all have. Let me correct what I just told you; not a mediocre role,
our care of the planet is negative. We are adversely affecting the conditions that sustain life on the planet. We are deteriorating the planet as if we were
enemies of life on the planet.
I wonder if for a moment we could stop and visualize what 8 million tons of plastic bottles are in the sea every year.
This study, from the journal Science, tells us that more than 80% of the plastic waste that reaches the sea comes from a few countries, China in the first
place, and also the United States among the first.
Did you know, my friend, that there is an island in the area of the North Pacific Ocean, known as the sixth continent? That is beyond pathetic!
This sixth continent as some call it, has an area of around 1,400,000 km². Imagine this to put in context what I am
talking about, Spain measures 505,990 km². This ‘island’ has been formed thanks to the five giant plates of plastic
debris that support the oceanic vortices, the ocean currents have almost solidified this sixth continent.
Now, these 5 islands or plates are just the tip of the iceberg of an environmental problem of planetary magnitude. 70% of the waste ends up in the depths
of the sea as microparticles and enters the aquatic food chain.
It is estimated that of this total plastic waste, 80% of it comes from land areas and 20%
from boats. Because the "Toxic Island" is floating in international waters, no one is
responsible for the waste and no government is responsible. Meaning, no one is
moving a finger to solve this issue.
If you are not impressed by this information by now, I think nothing I can say about
the problem is going to impress you.
The consequences of the presence not only of this 'Sixth Continent' but of all plastic
waste, bags, bottles, cardboard containers with plastic film, food cans, batteries and
many other wastes that reach the ocean, are devastating for the fish and actually for
the entire marine ecological chain.
This merits the immediate attention of all of us from all countries of the world.
A third actor in the environment and its deterioration are batteries. This issue alone is
complex. I will present it in detail in the next session.
In the midst of all this, what global solutions are being proposed? Well, as a central theme we have the Paris Agreement. I described this agreement in
previous sessions, but, broadly speaking, folks, the Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196
Parties (countries) at the Conference of the Parties in Paris on December 12, 2015 and entered into force on November 4, 2016.
Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach the global peak in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-
neutral world by mid-century.
As we can imagine, an agreement of this importance and with the participation of 196 countries is a global effort in which not all the signatory countries
have the political will, the economic environment, and the industrial structures to ensure national execution (in each country) , in such a way that the
proposed objectives are achieved.
In the midst of all this, what solutions at the country level do we propose? What role do you and I play, and all of us, really? Returning for example to the
first point that I present to you. How much care do we take and with what responsibility do we act with respect to the plastics that we handle on a daily
Are we users of plastic bags for 12 minutes and then dispose of these objects or do we recycle them properly?
Are we in a position, or rather, are we willing to at least not be consumers of plastic bags in supermarkets and other negotiations?
What is our individual participation in the solutions that the planet requests?
Are we willing to join the effort to ensure a return to better and more benign social behaviors for the benefit of the planet?
Friends, with these questions I leave you for the moment. In future sessions we will continue to analyze and comment on this central issue for all of us
inhabitants of planet earth.
April 10 2021
A transcript of the podcast Sin Límites of April
Is this the future of our oceans?
Emergency On Planet Earth
We Are Attempting Against Life On Our Planet!
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